For over 10 years, the Notre Dame Study of Health and Well-being at the University of Notre Dame has studied stress and its impact on health and aging. Through the project, the Adult Development and Aging Lab has collected immense amounts of data on an estimated 1,500 people and their experience with routine, daily stressors. Now, with four years of new funding from the National Institute on Aging, the research team will analyze how everyday stress and someone’s ability to regulate their response can benefit or impede health nearly a decade later as well as provide direction for stress prevention and intervention strategies.
This research, led by Cindy Bergeman, associate vice president for research and professor of psychology, will utilize information on 300 research participants from previous phases of the study. In those phases, the participants were asked to fill out paper and pencil questionnaires each year, to complete data bursts – from answering daily questions for eight straight weeks, five different times across a 10-year period – and to participate in some in-person interviews and health assessments about their daily life, their stresses and uplifts, and their resiliency resources.
“Stress from difficult relationships, financial issues, or other daily pressures can become chronic,” said Bergeman. “And even though the everyday stressors someone faces are not physical in nature, the body produces the same ‘fight or flight’ response as if they were. In the short term this can be advantageous, but over a lifespan this response may lead to morbidity and mortality."
"Our goal with this research is to capture a full picture of how everyday, typical stress and the physical response participants have impacts physical, emotional, and cognitive health.”
With the new project, participants will be asked to keep daily diaries and provide cortisol samples. Cortisol works in the brain to control emotional traits like mood and motivation, while also regulating blood pressure and glucose to provide energy for the “fight or flight” response. By analyzing the cortisol samples from participants, the Notre Dame researchers can better understand how self-reports of stress align with participants’ hormonal stress reactions.
Bergeman’s research team will utilize their new lab space in Corbett Family Hall, which includes both computer and wet lab spaces as well as exam rooms for gathering participant health data. At this point the lab will collect a participant’s health history, physical assessment - including height, weight, and blood pressure – a cognitive analysis, and a blood draw, which will help identify cardiovascular, metabolic, and immune system factors.
Some of that information will also be taken during a stress test. This assessment will be used to analyze hormonal, psychological, and physiological responses to stress, as well as stress recovery in real time.